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It doesn’t take an expert to recognise the bright yellow sunflowers no matter where you are. Most of us have at least once admired its beauty and grace and been in awe with its heliotropism, the way it is always facing the sun. But did you know that sunflower is actually a crop plant and an exotic one at that? Grown mostly for its seeds and oil, sunflower is one of the very few crops belonging to North America. It is said to be domesticated by the Native Americans, in around 1000 BC, who are believed to have used it as food and as a dye. From the fields of Northern America, it found its way to the rest of the world pretty quickly.

Today, the crunch of sunflower seeds makes a part of a number of recipes including bread, crackers, cookies and other confectioneries. These tiny seeds are delicately packed with nutrition and health-building vitamins and minerals which not only aid you in staying healthy but also packs a punch of calories to help you going through your busy day. All you have to do is throw in a handful of these seeds to your salad and you are ready to go. Easy and no fuss.

Thinking of adding sunflower seeds to your diet, yet? Maybe you will after reading this article. But before we begin with the health benefits of sunflowers, here is some information of sunflowers that you may like to know.

Some basic facts about sunflower:

  • Botanical name: Helianthus annuus
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Common name: Sunflower, Surajmukhi
  • Parts used: Seeds, oil
  • Native region and geographical distribution: Sunflowers are native to North America. They are cultivated in most of the temperate regions and some of the tropical regions of the world including Canada, Europe, especially Russia and in some parts of Australia. Sunflowers are also grown across the lands in India.
  1. Sunflower nutrition facts
  2. Sunflower benefits
  3. Uses of Sunflower
  4. Sunflower side effects

Only the seeds of the sunflower plant are edible. Sunflower seeds host a variety of nutrients that together make it a perfect snack you can munch on. They are small, drop shade and can be with hull (black, white or black with grey pinstripes) or without. Hull refers to the hard outer part of the sunflower seeds that need to be removed before eating.

As per the USDA database, 100 g of dried sunflower seeds (without hulls) contains the following nutrients.

Nutrient Value per cup (140 g)
Energy 818 Kcal
Carbohydrate 28 g
Proteins 29.09 g
Fat 72.04 g
Fibre 12 g
Water 6.62 g
Minerals  
Magnesium 455 mg
Phosphorus 924 mg
Potassium 903 mg
Calcium 109 mg
Sodium 13 mg
Iron 7.35 mg
Zinc 7 mg
Vitamins  
Folate 318 µg
Niacin 11.67 µg
Thiamin 2.1 µg
Vitamin C 2 µg
Vitamin A 4 µg
Vitamin E 49.24 µg
Fats/Fatty acids  
Monounsaturated 25.939 g
Polyunsaturated 32.392 g
Saturated 6.237 g

Being a repository of nutrients, sunflower holds great importance to your health and well being. For the same reason, the uses and health benefits of sunflower are not restricted to just one body system or a particular disease but it can be effective in preventing and managing various conditions. Let us have a look at what sunflowers can provide you with.

Sunflower for diabetes

High sugar levels and diabetes often become unmanageable and diabetics keep on looking for easily available and reliable food sources that can help them in keeping blood sugar levels in check. What if you had one at hand and one that tastes good? Sunflower seeds are loaded with active compounds that can help in managing blood glucose levels! In vivo (animal-based) studies have found that it not only helps reduce hyperglycemia in diabetics but also in non-diabetics.

Sunflower seeds have an antioxidant compound known as cynarin, which alleviates and prevents the complications associated with diabetes by clearing off free radicals and oxidative stress in the body. Sunflower has about 8% more cynarin than artichokes, hence, they could be a healthier alternative to artichokes.

Additionally, sunflower seeds contain many secondary metabolites which inhibit or reduce the absorption of glucose from the intestines thus reducing the effects of postprandial hyperglycemia, spiking sugar levels right after a meal.

Sunflower as an antioxidant

Our body has a bittersweet relationship with free radicals, singlet oxygen species created as a result of various metabolic activities and also needed to carry out some other functions in the body. Excessive free radicals lead to oxidative stress, which deteriorates body organs and hastens the ageing process. Antioxidants are the substances that scavenge these free radicals and keep them under check. However, excessive stress, unhealthy diet and some other lifestyle habits disrupt this balance and make our body prone to diseases. In such a situation, the best respite lies in outside sources of antioxidants in the form of supplements and antioxidant-rich diet.

Sunflower holds great importance as an antioxidant-rich food. In a number of studies, sunflower seeds, leaves and roots have demonstrated potent radical scavenging activity. As per the findings of these studies, sunflowers leaves hold greater antioxidant potential than its roots in saline conditions (salty) while the antioxidant activity of sunflower seeds keep on increasing as they mature with the sprouts being the best source.

So, soak sunflower seeds and prepare sprouts to be added to a salad, a sandwich or just throw in a pinch of salt and pepper and enjoy a bowl.

Sunflower as an antimicrobial

In the wake of antibiotic-resistant strains and multidrug-resistant pathogens, it has become important to find alternative and natural sources of antimicrobials, preferably ones which these pathogens aren’t resistant to. Studies indicate that Ha-AP10, is an effective antifungal protein present in the sunflower plant. It is present in the largest amount in the first 5 days of the germination of sunflower plants and then gets evenly distributes inside its cotyledons.

Studies indicate that various biologically active compounds present in sunflower seeds have potent antimicrobial action. These include tannins, flavonoids and saponins. Their mode of action may vary from affecting bacterial adhesion to protein formation and enzyme function.

Furthermore, some secondary metabolites present in sunflower leaves and roots have been found to be effective against some sexually transmitted diseases. In laboratory-based studies, sunflower seed extracts have demonstrated strong antibacterial and antifungal action. Disk diffusion methods show that these extracts are effective in inhibiting the growth of bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis, Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholerae and Staphylococcus aureus and fungi such as Aspergillus fumigatus, Candida albicans and Fusarium oxysporum.

Sunflower seeds for stomach

Did you know sunflower seeds can help keep your stomach healthy? Preclinical studies suggest the gastroprotective action of sunflower seeds, which is due to the presence of antioxidants. It is traditionally used as a remedy for stomach ache. Furthermore, sunflower seeds are a good source of fibre. This fibre bulks up the food in your intestines and increases transit time thus making you feel full for longer and avoiding unnecessary munching. It also prevents constipation and diarrhoea by helping regulate bowel movement. Additionally, fibres help the gut microflora to digest food.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab a bowl of sunflower seed sprouts and say goodbye to stomach problems.

(Read more: How to improve digestion)

Sunflower benefits for skin

Sunflowers have a lot of gifts just for your skin. Here is what they do for you:

  • Sunflowers are a good source of vitamin C, which is an important nutrient required for collagen production. Collagen is a protein responsible for the structure of body tissues and a lack of this protein would lead to ageing signs including fine lines and wrinkles. Consuming sunflower seeds or making a mask from them would impart all this vitamin to your skin, leaving it taut and seamless.
  • As a repository of antioxidants, sunflower seeds are the perfect antiageing food. By fighting off free radicals and oxidative stress on the skin, it reduces dark spots and UV damage along with other ageing signs, making your skin look fresh and young.
  • Studies indicate that sunflower seed oil contains linoleic acid which has a role in cell division and differentiation. Due to this, sunflower oil is speculated to have some therapeutic value in wound healing.
  • Sunflower oil application is effective in the treatment of dermatosis and scaly lesions, as evident by clinical studies.
  • It is an excellent massage oil and has a protective action on the skin barrier. This means that it helps your skin retain its moisture and natural oils, keeping it healthy and young. It is not only good for you but for your baby as well. Clinical studies indicate that it is safe for newborns and has an antibacterial action on the neonatal skin, protecting them from skin infections.

Sunflower seeds for heart

In the busy and stressed life of the modern century, it is easy to fall into the woes of cardiovascular diseases. However, by making some healthy additions to your diet you can remain a step away from heart ailments. Sunflower seeds are just the food that would assist you. They contain ample amounts of potassium and comparatively less sodium, which is just right to keep your blood pressure in check. Though, it is preferable to take it unprocessed.

It also has a good amount of fibre, which helps in eliminating cholesterol from the body. Along with the low saturated fat and high unsaturated fat content, sunflower seeds make sure that your body does not pile up on bad cholesterol. This eliminates another risk factor for heart diseases, that is, high cholesterol.

Finally, as an antioxidant-rich food, it prevents lipid peroxidation (atherosclerosis) and the deteriorating effects of oxidative stress on the heart.

Sunflower seeds for bones

Sunflowers contain two of the most important minerals, calcium and magnesium, responsible for maintaining the structure and function of your bones. A major part of our body’s calcium is present in the bones and in times of need (calcium deficiency), it starts to leach off this calcium, leaving your bones weaker and prone to fractures. By providing a good source of calcium, sunflower seeds reduce the risk of various diseases like osteoporosis. Furthermore, magnesium is required to ascertain the availability and absorption of calcium from the diet along with its resorption from the blood to your bones. It also facilitates the formation of new bones.

Add these seeds in your diet to keep your bones healthier and stronger.

Other benefits of sunflower

The story of sunflower benefits doesn’t end here. It has been used for the treatment of various ailments in traditional medicine and herbalism. Let us have a look at them:

  • Sunflower leaves and flowers are believed to have been used as a remedy for malaria.
  • The flowers of this plant are made into a decoction (kadha) or a tea to be used for nasal congestion.
  • Studies indicate that magnesium deficiency is associated with asthma and thus asthma symptoms can be alleviated by taking enough of this mineral. As a magnesium source, sunflower may aid against your asthma attacks.
  • Sunflower seeds have a good amount of vitamin A needed for the functioning and well being of your eyes. So, it won’t be wrong to say that a bowl full of sunflower seed sprouts would assist in maintaining your eye health.
  • Vitamin C content of sunflower oil may have some stimulatory effects on your immune system.
  • Being rich in calories, sunflower seeds are the perfect snack for satiating your evening munchies.
  • Sunflower seeds are considered to be safe for pregnant women. In fact, it has vitamin B, folic acid, calcium, iron and the whole band of nutrients needed to maintain a healthy pregnancy. However, sunflower sprouts are considered to be a probable source of salmonella infections and it is advisable not to eat them undercooked or raw.

The best way to use sunflower is in the form of its seeds. These seeds are available in the form of dry, unsalted and processed and salted. It is always better to shop for the former since the extra oil and salt would only take away some of its benefits.

You can put whole seeds in your salads or make them into sprouts. However, if sprout is not your choice of food you can always buy sunflower seed powder and make it into dips, bread, pancakes etc. Just put in some imagination.

However, sunflower seeds can easily go rancid so is recommended that you store them in an air-tight container in a cool and dry place.

Apart from seeds, sunflower oil is yet another form to take this plant. Sunflower oil is made from different forms of sunflower seeds, ones with a non-detachable hull. You can use it as cooking oil as well as a massage oil. Being high on unsaturated fats, it is one of the healthiest additions you can make to your diet.

  • A clinical study demonstrated that consumption of sunflower seeds may aggravate acne.
  • Sunflower has been confirmed to be a hypoglycemic (blood sugar reducing) effect. If you are a diabetic person on medication or have low blood sugar levels, it is suggested that you talk to a doctor before adding sunflower to your diet.
  • Sunflower seeds are rich in fibre. If you don’t drink enough water during the day, this may block your intestines and cause constipation and nausea instead.
  • Though sunflower is considered potentially safe during pregnancy, it is advisable that you talk to your doctor before adding it to your diet. Also, roasted and processed sunflower seeds are high in salt, which is not considered good for anyone, let alone pregnant women. It is best that you buy unsalted and unroasted seeds.
  • Sunflower seeds are very high in calories, if you are looking forward to adding it to your daily regime, it is important that you adjust your total calorie intake accordingly. An imbalance in energy metabolism causes obesity.

Medicines / Products that contain Sunflower

References

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